Sweet Wissey

The River Wissey is another so far unexplored East Anglian river.

Like the Lark  and Brandon Creek  the Wissey feeds into the Great Ouse.

“While we’re here shall we explore the little rivers?” the Tentatrice First Mate had suggested.  Boatwif wouldn’t admit to a Tick List syndrome – but there is a chart on her computer of waterways so far explored – and this year the Cam, the Little Ouse and now the Wissey have been added to the “Boated” column.


It took about 70 minutes and 5¾ miles to cruise up the Great Ouse from the mouth of Brandon Creek (the Little Ouse) to the Wissey on Wednesday.

Back on the wide water of the Great Ouse things seemed very large – boats,    wind turbines,  haystacks…!  

Then to the right (heading north) comes the sign for the River Wissey.   It would be just  a 10 mile cruise to the point beyond Stoke Ferry where the Wissey just disappears into a clump of green reeds…

The Ely – King’s Lynn railway line crosses the Great Ouse at Hilgay    – and crosses the Wissey too.   Two stretches of GOBA moorings close to the mouth are delightful    – and were as pleasant a place as any to sit out the very wet weather on Thursday.

When the rain finally stopped a late afternoon walk revealed the black silted earth of pancake-flat fields behind the flood bank,    quietly grazing cattle    and neatly harvested fields.  

Friday became Wissey Day. The river is narrow, Macc Canal narrow.   Yet the water is deep and clear. About 2 miles upstream is Hilgay, reached after passing a line of moored boats on the right hand bank.   There are two road bridges, one a local road and one the ubiquitous A10.

Then there are more moored boats    and thick belts of trees after the bridges.   Somewhere, in the back of the mind, stirred recall of a conversation about the vast number of trees in Norfolk, planted both to soak up water from flooded land and to create windbreaks.

Ahead appeared an attractive building – a remodelled mill? A pump house?   (It was a pump house according to the Imray guide book, though unnamed).

Winding, weaving, twisting, the little river goes, in a mainly easterly direction, with glimpses appearing of a vast industrial site.   This is the Wissington Sugar Factory, (history here). British Sugar claims that this is the largest and most cost-effective sugar processing plant in Europe. It’s an innovative business, being the first UK bioethanol plant. Almost hidden from river view is a vast glasshouse powered by the heat from the sugar beet factory processes.  Dig into the British Sugar website  and you’ll discover that the glasshouse covers 18 hectares and is the largest single glasshouse in the UK. 70 million tomatoes are grown here each year, apparently…

Then, after view after view of gantries   and pipes   and silos   and chimneys   comes the sharpest of contrasts, the river broadened to lake proportions            This delightful reminder of Staffordshire’s Tixall Wide is bittersweet since no mooring is permitted here.

East Anglia is a watery landscape – and again, as on Brandon Creek, the river crosses the Cut-off Channel   which takes away flood water and feeds it into the sea at King’s Lynn.

After wash lands   and reed-lined banks

the little settlement of Stoke Ferry comes into view. There are a few houses,   and moored boats of varying shapes and sizes.       Did the punt on a tiny slipway indicate the site of the original Stoke ferry crossing…?  

Beside a caravan site (for adults only), is a narrow stretch of GOBA mooring   and just a few hundred yards beyond it is the head of navigation.  Such a pretty river ends in a straight line with a dribble of water through the reeds from the left   and from the right.  

Boat turned,    Cleddau was headed back downstream, a pretty route enlivened by sharp bends and dense green clusters of reeds. There were few other boats moving, although a paddle boarder    passed by.

Despite mooring sites at Stoke Ferry (minimal bank space and a noisy bridge nearby) and at Hilgay (noisy location again) there was a return to the fine GOBA moorings just half a mile from the river’s flow into the Great Ouse. 

Wissey verdict: It packs a lot in, does this little river…

Back to the Great Ouse on Saturday,      heading north again, for Denver.

Next time, some Relief en route to Downham Market…

(Self correction:The cruise on the Little Ouse is the second time into Suffolk, since the Lark,June 2014, also flows within Suffolk.)

Miles and locks since Bedford:  200¼ miles, 23 locks

Miles and locks back to Victoria Pit Moorings: 209⅓ miles, 127 locks

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.